Sunday, November 23, 2014

Caught in a Silken Net of Happy Endings

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. - "Kubla Khan", Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow. - "How sweet I roam'd from field to field", Willian Blake

I think of "The Pilgrims", who kick-started what we know as modern America, as a dour mob.

Looking down their noses at anything that smacked of "pleasure" and preaching the benefits of hard work. Wearing buckle shoes and strange hats, the men growing corn, the women making pumpkin pies.

But then, my knowledge of 17th century American history is not all that good.

It is hard to imagine those dour settlers - Americans nowadays being seekers of pleasure. For although there is an impression held by many that Americans live to work, while most of the world works to live, I don't find this to be the case at all.

Americans live for happiness - a happiness that those not living here may find saccharin.

The love of happy endings in films, the Norman Rockwell paintings, the love of fast food, any food - it is all about being happy.

Along with searching for happiness is what can come across as over-politeness.

"Why can't they get to the point?" I used to think to myself when calling customer service with some complaint,  only to be greeted by a cheery voice asking me how my day was going.

"Hello, My name is Madison, thank you for banking with Chase. How are you feeling today? What is the weather like there?  I see you are calling from New York. I've always wanted to go there. And your accent -  English? No, Australian. Oh I've always wanted to go to Australia. What's the weather like there?"

It used to drive me into a blind fury and I'd snap back that all I wanted to know was the answer to the question I was calling about. I now realize it is just easier and quicker in the long run to answer their questions. To be NICE.

West Village, Manhattan
The icing on the cake. The need to look on the sunny side. Where else would margarine be branded "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"? Or already sweet potatoes be served with marshmallows?

A blistery blustery night. The cab driver had dropped me two blocks from my destination due to the traffic snarl. The rain was bucketing down, the wind blowing me sideways. I was completely disoriented. I looked up searching for the lit-by-a-million-lights of Bloomingdale's fa├žade, but it was nowhere.

People were rushing in every direction, heads down, bent over, fighting the wind. I stopped a woman and asked her which way was Bloomingdale's. She turned and pointed me in the right direction, telling me I was on the wrong street. We were hardly visible to each other in the rainy darkness. I thanked her.

 Before moving on she smiled and said, "Oh, you are so very welcome."

Such a contrast to Melbourne Australia - my "home country" as Americans from other countries refer to their country of origin.

The last time I was in the Melbourne's city center - the Bourke Street Mall -  the only person who spoke to me was a weeping spaced-out poor-looking woman of a certain age. Actually it was me who spoke first.

"Are you OK, can I help you?" She told me her boyfriend had kicked her out after he had nearly beaten her to death and she wanted to go home to Mildura but he had taken all her money to spend on drugs. I asked her what it cost to go by train to  Mildura. She told me forty bucks. I gave it to her. She stopped weeping.

That evening I was out at a restaurant with friends and told them of my encounter. They stared at me and laughed. "Jeez mate, you fell for that chestnut? She was a junky. Come in sucker!  You've been in Yankeeland too long. You must be loaded giving away that kind of money."

"Glad I could amuse you. Thank you for enlightening me," I answered.

I waited for the "Oh, but you are so very welcome."

I am still waiting.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Homosexual Fish

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain - "Horse with no Name", Dewey Bunnell, 1971

I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member - Groucho Marx

Metrosexual Flowers
I joined an online book club. I've never been a member of an online book club. Or any sort of book club for that matter.

The last online group I joined was a knitting group, and for some never-to-be-known-reason, I was chucked out. No ceremony. No warning. For god's sake, I was once a member of the Australian Labor Party, and THAT club allowed me in!

So it was with some trepidation that I joined the Facebook group - The Australians Abroad Book Club.

I recommend this club most highly. It has every quality that a good club should have.

In the first place - oh I love saying, "In the first place." It is so President Obama. Even if it is something he has said before, he loves prefacing his announcement with, "In the first place."

But back to business. In the first place, you have to be Australian. I don't think non-Australians could last five minutes in this club. You need PERSEVERANCE.

You need perseverance to use the meeting software. It has a funny name, like "nip in the bud". Hang on and I will look it up.

Back again. "Hip Chat" - that's the name of the software. I think that Hip Chat must have been written before computers were even invented. It is almost impossible to load. And then, after you have loaded it, you are presented with a vague sort of screen with nothing to click on.

Try as you might, you get nowhere. At frst I thought it was just me, and that me being a software engineer had something to do with my inability to find a hyperlink or anything 'clickable'. But no.  A very good friend, who used to live in Silicon Valley, and who I know for a fact can use more apps than anyone else in cyberspace - SHE couldn't get into the book club either.

A challenge. I cant let a challenge go by. I persevered, and sixty minutes later  I "got in". So did my ex-Silicon Valley friend.

At around the same time. Two person-hours altogether. We got in on the end of the discussion. I think the other people were Australians from Philadelphia  and Germany. That might explain it, though I can't see how.

The discussion was in full flight. About "The Slap" by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas.

The Shining revisited - Me at my door
I joined in. No, I didn't like Rosie and why anyone would marry a guy named "Gary" I didn't know. I saw my friend ex-Silicon  Valley was still on. She didn't like Gary either, though I expect it was because he was a Chardonnay Socialist.

On and on they chatted. Giving the novel scores, and doing "what ifs". What if Harry was  faithful to his wife,  and what if Ailsa didn't sleep with the man in South Africa?

I just followed it all. Rendered somewhat numb form having tried to load the software for over one hour. I think they all forgot I was there. I had to wake them up.

And so here is my  "In the second place" thing.

Knowing our December novel is "Barracuda" also by Christos Tsiolkas,I decided to remind everyone.  I forgot how to spell Barracuda so I typed, "Don't forget December's novel,  about the homosexual fish."  Cyber silence. There's nothing like it.

A bit concerned that no one had answered, I belatedly typed, "Spoiler alert!"

A couple of people contributed smiley faces, but I remembered about the knitting group. I decided I would be on my best  behavior.

There was a discussion about what to read next. Someone in Washington DC  suggested "Rhubarb". I wrote that  was OK if it was on Kindle. Adding "I don't do paper." "Oh but don't you miss the smell of paper?" piped in someone from somewhere in Asia. "I don't sniff paper," I answered. "I don't even sniff cocaine."

Silence again. I fear my days in the book club  are numbered.

In the first place, I did the spoiler thing. And then in the first place I said the cocaine word.

Oh how I love you President Obama!

In the first place .....

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Nothingness on Nothingness

Monday, nothing
Tuesday, nothing
Wednesday and Thursday nothing
Friday, for a change a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing

Lunes nada Martes nada
Miercoles y Jueves nada
Viernes, por cambia un poco mas nada
Sabado otra vez nada

nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
lots of it nothing!
Not a God damn thing - The Fugs from "The Nothing Song", 1966

Somewhere in Maine - but nothing to do with this blog
Nothings. Recently there has been a whole bunch of them.

There was the Ebola nurse from Maine who didn't have Ebola, not leaving her house. 

She had been quarantined in her home by the Center for Disease Control. Camera crews were keeping watch, parked outside her house 24/7, waiting to see if she would break the quarantine and leave.

It was news if she left, and news if she didn't leave.

To put it bluntly, it was news if there was no news. That was in America.

In Australia there wasn't so much nothing, as nothingness - the void left by that giant of a man,  ex Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam who died on  21st of October at the age of 98. The Prime Minister who brought Australia into the twentieth century during the years 1972 through 1975. The termination of military conscription, universal health care, free university education, the implementation of legal aid programs, land rights for the indigenous people of Australia. And more.

Nothing , worse than nothing,  were the Whitlam critics, who danced on his grave literally hours after the news of his death. " [Columnist] Bolt thought it was more important to vent, for the 865th time, his personal obsession with race than to show respect for the Whitlam family in its moment of grief." - Critics display meanness of spirit on Whitlam's death. (Mark Latham)

Back to America - nothing was the victory of the Republican Party in the November elections. Because it will just mean more of the same, or worse. Because legislation initiated by the Democratic party could not be passed anyway. Now it will even more 'not be passed', if such a concept is possible. More nothing.

Nothing is what I did yesterday when enrolling in a health care plan. 

Enrolling in a health care plan is very complicated in New York. I spent days just setting up an appointment to see a representative from Health First insurers, and then nearly a whole day - first  turning up for the appointment, then the two of us sitting on plastic chairs  in an open area in Mount Sinai Hospital, filling out the forms. He on his Blackberry, and I on my Iphone - calling doctors' offices checking to see if my preferred doctors were "in the network".

One doctor's office was impossible to get on the phone at all, and I had to actually WALK to it in order to find out if the doctor was in the network. Even then the answer was ambiguous. Still I trotted back to Mount Sinai and the plastic chairs, and signed the forms. I was enrolled at last, what a blast!

Once outside Mount Sinai I did a double take - like Woody Allen in "Manhattan" when he leaves the neurosurgeon's office -  ecstatic after being told he does not have a brain tumor - and then realizing that his relief was all for nothing because we are all going to die sometime anyway.

Why had I signed up for that plan?   I didn't even like it! It was the challenge that had gotten to me. That it was so hard getting the appointment with the representative, almost impossible to get a human on the phone at doctor's offices. It is part of my personality. I have make it through all obstacles. Failure is not an option. I WILL not be defeated!

So now I will have to cancel the  Health First policy - god knows how long  that will take, how many hurdles I will have to jump over. And then I will enroll in the insurance company I had in the first place.

All by December 5, which is the cut-off date for changing your mind in this country.

I have spent hours, days doing something only to have to undo it, to make it as it were, nothing.

And this blog. I just read it. It's a whole lotta nothing. I am deleting it.

It's nothing.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Ebola, Jingoism and Being Lucky

This beautiful Puerto Rican girl in tight white spandex and a push-up bra sits me down and starts chopping my hair:
"Girlfriend," she says, "what the hell you got growing outta your head there, what is that, hair implants?
Yuck, you want me to touch that shit, whadya got in there, sandwiches?" - "Bad Day at the Beauty Salon" Maggie Estep, Slam Poet

Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia. - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on ABC's "Q and A", April 5, 2010
 
On 3rd and 60th
"I want him to be eaten by dogs. Maybe twenty dogs, all hungry. And I want to watch with 200 people like they watched when they ate his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek. I thought he gone. Sick man.  Fat. Maybe already dogs ate him. But no, he come back. Is alive."

This from my hairdresser who I will call Lily Pond. All the stylists at my hair salon have Chinese-sounding salon names. Like  "Lotus River", "Flower Petal", "Dawning Day".

I suppose having made-up salon names offers  privacy, in a similar way that Facebook profile names are sometimes used to disguise identities and to put across an image. Like sexy_girl345 or AussieFromOzland, or Liifesiize Barbiie Dubsetep Alcoholiic Raver (sic).

But back to Lily Pond's dog eating comments. She was of course referring to North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

The monologue continued. "They show no respect. Boy has uncle. No like uncle. Not like uncle, OK. But he should respect uncle who is older. Not feed him to dogs. Not 200 people watch."

I love New York. If ever I am feeling lonely I just go to the hairdressers. There is always something happening and people to talk to. Or listen to. And watch.

While Lily Pond was cutting away, another client walked up to the counter and plonked her two year-old son right on top of it. "Look!" she screamed. "His bangs are too short! What are you going to do about it?" Meandering Stream at reception was speechless. Was she meant to perform miracles and reverse time itself? She started tugging that the child's bangs, then ruffling them, applying gel. She was helpless. Meanwhile Lily Pond was looking and listening. "I think $20 discount make boy hair grow and mother happy," she sneered.

And so it was settled. The complaining woman managed to get her toddler's hair cut for a mere  $5.  I was beginning to despair of humanity. Truth was, I hadn't gone to the hair salon just for company. I'd had to get away from some Australians.

I'd been home reading Facebook comments posted by some ugly Australians on an Aussie Expats group - and yes we have some - ugly ones, that is.

"Don't send money to those warlords, murderers and rapists!" commented one compassionate soul, on the subject of aid being sent to the people fighting Ebola in West Africa.

"Let's not help them because we are only helping them because a couple of people in America caught Ebola," posted another. On and on. While most of us replied asking for some humanity and compassion,  it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was  pointless to answer the irate, "let them eat cake" types.

I moved  to another thread on whether Australians are racist, which had been prompted by the publication of  an Australian government controversial anti-immigration advertisement aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from travelling to the country illegally. The poster is titled "No Way" and the tagline reads: "You will not make Australia Home. "If you get on a boat without a visa, you will not end up in Australia. Any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters."

The Facebook  discussions were going everywhere. From whether it was provocative to drape yourself in the Australian flag and jump up and down in front of Lebanese migrants at Cronulla, calling them Lebbo bludgers, to how ignorant Americans are because they have never heard of failed early Australian explorers Burke and Wills.

I'd had enough of Australian complacency and false pride All too shocking to read. I walked away from Facebook.

And picked up my Kindle - I am reading Australian writer - Christos Tsiolkas's novel 'Barracuda'.

The protagonist's Scottish boyfriend Clyde is talking about Australia and why he doesn't want to stay there. "I want to be somewhere where people aren't perpetually banging on about mortgage rates and refugees and blackfellas and how fucking great this country is, how lucky I am to be here in the luckiest country on earth. I don't want to be told how lucky I am, I want to feel lucky. I want to be home."

I closed the Kindle. I too had no time for that brand of Australian. I decided a haircut was in order.

Something nice. A pleasantness. I needed to  get away from the jingoists.

I walked two blocks to Third Avenue to the hair salon talk about Kim Jong-un being eaten by 200 dogs.

Life is indeed wonderful.